On the first day of recreational marijuana sales, hundreds of customers poured into the Bay State’s first two shops—in Leicester and Northampton—spending more than $440,000.
The rush of inaugural sales—during the week before Thanksgiving, no less—prompted outrage in the western Massachusetts community of Leicester, where residents reported mile-long traffic jams leading to the new shop, Cultivate.
With Mashpee allowing the possibility of one recreational pot shop to open in town, should residents be concerned about a similar ordeal?
The short answer: No, the town would not likely see a comparable influx.
But Mashpee town officials still want to examine the potential impact of a store. The board of selectmen plans to discuss the issue at its meeting Monday, December 3.
In response to heavy traffic, the Town of Leicester called an emergency meeting Tuesday, during which residents slammed local officials and executives from the new store, Cultivate, for failing to adequately manage the hordes of eager customers. They complained of traffic jams, closed roads, customers parking on residential streets and pedestrians walking up a highway with no sidewalk.
Cultivate executives have since pledged certain measures to address the traffic congestion, including the addition of 80 new parking spaces at a site near the shop, which the company has leased.
But at the emergency meeting, executives and officials agreed the best way to ease the troubles would be for more facilities to open and absorb some of the demand.
“We completely understand the frustration that some residents expressed with traffic and congestion in the area,” Cultivate said in a statement to media the following day, adding, “We anticipate that the crowds will continue to subside in the coming days and a regular flow of traffic will be established.”
Carol A. Sherman, chairman of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen, said she had seen the news out of Leicester and agreed part of the trouble resulted from that store being among the first two to open in the state.
Mashpee is the only town on the Upper Cape to permit recreational marijuana shops (Bourne, Falmouth and Sandwich banned sales via Town Meetings). At October Town Meeting, Mashpee voters agreed to a proposal that would allow one recreational license in town, but it will likely be a while before any company begins sales in Mashpee.
James Vacarro, the director of Triple M, a medical marijuana dispensary in Mashpee, said he is looking to expand to recreational sales.
But Mr. Vacarro—like others—does not anticipate that Mashpee would experience the same challenges as Leicester, where the shop has limited parking and abuts a residential neighborhood.
“Our location is more isolated,” he said of Triple M. The site is at the corner of Main Street (Route 130) and Echo Road.
Triple M is also purchasing the lot next door. “We’ll be combining the two of them so we’ll maximize the parking situation as best we can,” Mr. Vacarro said.
The company is working with traffic engineers to manage flow of both cars and customers coming and going. At the medical business, Mr. Vacarro said patrons take around 15 minutes to get in and out, with a quicker turnaround for people who have been there before.
Triple M plans to create a larger facility and employ more dispensary agents to support a recreational operation.
Mr. Vacarro too emphasized, as more shops open across the commonwealth, congestion woes will subside.
For now, he said, “It’s something new, and it’s unique.”
Triple M is in the beginning stages of applying for a recreational license, Mr. Vaccaro said. And well before Mashpee sees any retail sales, three more shops are on track to open within a month or so in Easthampton, Salem and across the Cape Cod Canal in Wareham.
Ms. Sherman said it will be interesting to see how things play out in Wareham.
“We all have our eyes on it,” she said.
In Wareham, Verilife has been selling medicinal marijuana for several months, but anticipates recreational sales will commence in December. The store has a capacity of only 21 people, so executive director Michelle M. Stormo suspects the line will extend well outside into the lobby on opening day. On top of that, parking is limited, so the company plans to offer shuttles from satellite parking lots in Wareham.
Although Ms. Stormo also anticipates a heavy flow of customers for the initial opening, she believes it will calm down from there. “It should become normalized after that,” she said.
But Verilife has another creative solution for the congestion: it will offer discounts for patrons who dine at local restaurants while waiting to enter the store. Customers will receive a text message when their spots in line open up. According to Ms. Stormo, it is an effort to both keep people occupied and support the local community.
Questions about the opening of a recreational store in town likely will be discussed at next week’s meeting of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen. The board plans to have a conversation about host agreements with a hypothetical recreational dispensary, delving into any factors they would want to consider when evaluating a proposal from Triple M or anyone else who applies.
Mashpee Town Manager Rodney C. Collins said that because Triple M has not yet applied for a new host agreement with the town, he did not want to speak about the matter in depth, but did confirm that the town has been communicating with the retailer and has concerns about potential store-generated traffic on its radar.
Mashpee would collect a tax on all recreational marijuana sales, which Mr. Collins said could net the town up to $4 million a year. During Town Meeting, residents questioned where this revenue would go. The simple answer: the money will go to the town’s general fund, although officials have mentioned tapping the new tax revenue for efforts to combat substance abuse and anticipated wastewater treatment programs.